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The Lutheran liturgical calendar is a listing which details the primary annual festivals and events that are

celebrated liturgically by various Lutheran churches. The basic element to the calendar is Sunday, which is a festival of Jesus’ resurrection. However, Christian Churches have historically observed other festivals which commemorate events in the life of Jesus or of significant individuals in the history of the Church.[1] The purpose of the liturgical calendar is to guide commemorations as a part of the daily worship of the Lutheran Church. There is some variation associated with the observance of the calendar, as each Lutheran Church creates its own calendar and each congregation must choose independently how many individuals will be commemorated within a given year and how many festivals and lesser festivals they will publicly celebrate, especially if they do not coincide with a Sunday.

Structure Edit


The Lutheran calendar operates on two different cycles: the Temporal Cycle and the Sanctoral Cycle. The Temporal Cycle pivots on the festivals of Christmas andEaster. All Sundays, Seasons, and Festivals are related to these festivals.[2]Because Easter varies in date each year based on the vernal equinox and the phases of the moon, it is called a moveable feast (see: Computus). Dates affected by placement of Easter include Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent, the start of Easter itself, Pentecost, and Holy Trinity.[3] Advent, the other pivotal season on the calendar, comes exactly four Sundays before the start of Christmas (if Christmas falls on a Sunday, that day does not count), or the Sunday closest to St. Andrew's Day (November 30).[3] Like the other Western Church calendars, the first Sunday of Advent is also the first day of the liturgical year.[4] The Sanctoral Cycle is the fixed daily commemorations of individuals and events not related to the Temporal Cycle of Sundays, Festivals, and Seasons.[5] It is the Sanctoral Cycle which is sometimes thought of as being the “Calendar of Saints” of a Church.

Beyond their place in the Temporal or Sanctoral Cycles, the events commemorated on the Lutheran liturgical calendar fall into one of three different categories depending upon their liturgical priority: Festivals, Lesser Festivals, and Commemorations.

Festivals Edit

The Festivals are Nativity, Epiphany, the Baptism of our Lord, the Transfiguration, the Annunciation, Palm Sunday, Easter, the Ascension, Pentecost, Holy Trinity, All Saints, and Christ the King.[6] Most of these festivals are tied to the moveable feast of Easter. Festivals take precedence over all other days, including Sundays, have their own collects and Eucharistic proper prefaces. Of the festivals, Christmas is considered to be twelve days in length (from December 25 until January 5) and Easter is fifty days in length (from Easter Sunday up to and inclusive of Pentecost).[7] For Easter, Sundays are considered to be another part of the festival. For the Ascension which, falling on fortieth day of Easter, will always be on a Thursday, the festival is sometimes transferred to the Seventh Sunday of Easter in addition to or in place of the normal part of the Easter festival for that day.[8]

There is another type of day which, while not a festival, is considered to be equal with a festival. These days, called Days of Special Devotion, are Ash Wednesday and all the days of Holy Week, especially Good Friday.[9] These particular days, like other festivals, automatically take precedence over any event on the calendar and sometimes even over other festivals. A good example of this would be in 2005 when Good Friday and the Annunciation fell on the same day (March 25). The Annunciation was transferred to March 28, or the second day of Easter, to make room for Good Friday.[10] The principle of the Church of Sweden is that the Annunciation is celebrated on the Sunday between 21–27 March; although, should Good Friday or any other day of Holy Week, or Easter Sunday or Monday respectively, fall on 25 March, Annunciation is moved to the Sunday before Palm Sunday. (For instance, in 2003 Annunciation was celebrated on 13 March; 2008 (when Easter Sunday was 23 March) it was celebrated on the 9th.) One unique feature of the ELCA calendar is that it has given congregations the options of two dates for the Transfiguration.[9] Following most other Western Churches, the ELCA moved the Transfiguration from its August 6 date to the Last Sunday after Epiphany (the Sunday immediately preceding Ash Wednesday) as an option to the traditional Last Sunday after Epiphany in an effort to encourage a wider observance of the Transfiguration within congregations. However, the traditional date of August 6 was left on the calendar. Congregations were given the option of observing Transfiguration on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany and August 6, thus leaving open the possibility that the Transfiguration could be commemorated twice within a calendar year.[11] In Sweden, Transfiguration Day is celebrated on the seventh Sunday after Trinity Sunday, which is the eighth Sunday after Pentecost.

Lesser Festivals Edit

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The altar book editions of theLutheran Book of Worship (green) and Evangelical Lutheran Worship

These are days which are associated with the life of Christ or the Apostles and deserve attention in their own right. Lesser Festivals do not have priority over festivals and technically do not have precedence over ordinary Sundays. However, the Lutheran Book of Worship does permit the celebration of a Lesser Festival on Sundays where the normal color of the day would be green (that is, seasons after Epiphany or after Pentecost) or on the Sundays in Christmas.[12] This is abrogated for patronal festivals (that is, the day commemorating the saint or event for which a congregation is named) provided that they do not take place in Lent, Advent, or Easter, in which case they must also be transferred to the next convenient weekday.[12] Most Lesser Festivals have their own collects and a few, such as All Saints, have their own proper.

Commemorations Edit

Commemorations are for individuals or events which have been noteworthy in the life of the Church and in the history of Lutheranism in particular.[13]These days do not take precedence over any other festival day, and if there is a conflict between a commemoration and a festival of any other rank, the commemoration is generally transferred to the next open weekday. If a commemoration falls on a Sunday where the color of the day is green, thecollect for which that individual or event belong to could be said before the daily collect/prayer of the day or in place of it. For example, if September 13 fell on a Sunday and there was a desire to commemorate St. John Chrysostom, the pastor would recite the common of theologians and then the prayer of the day or the common of theologians on its own. The person may also be mentioned by name in the prayers of the faithful in addition to recitation of the applicable collect. Finally, their lives might be summarized or their teachings related to the day's lessons in some way.[14]

In cases of conflict between commemorations (for example, November 11 with St. Martin of Tours and Søren Kierkegaard), there is no order of precedence, and individual worship planners need to choose which commemoration, if any, to highlight. In some cases, several individuals are listed together (June 14 with St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. Gregory of Nyssa) because of their close association with each other, and they are thus designed to be commemorated jointly, not as a choice between one or the other.[15]

The schedule of commemorations within the ELCA has been specifically designed so that there is at least one person on the calendar from each century so as to emphasize the continuity of Christian tradition.[16] Clearly, some centuries have more commemorations than others, the largest number of persons commemorated being in the first four centuries of Christian history and immediately following the Reformation. This leaves the space from the 5th to the 15th centuries and the 16th to the 20th centuries rather sparse; nevertheless, it is an improvement over some calendars wherein only a very few persons, all from the patristic or Reformation periods, were commemorated.

Liturgical colors Edit


A Lutheran pastor celebrating the Eucharist during the Easter season

The service books of Lutheran Churches designate specific colors for events which are listed on the liturgical calendars and the seasons which are a part of the Temporal Cycle. This color is sometimes known as “the color of the day.” The Lutheran Church generally follows the color scheme which is used by other churches in Western Christianity since Lutheranism has historically been linked with the Roman Catholic Church. The color of the day dictates the color of the vestments for all ministers and the color of paraments. White is the color designated for Festivals of Christ, with gold sometimes offered as an alternative for the first days of Easter.[18] Festivals for which white is the color of the day include:

  • Christmas (all twelve days)
  • Epiphany
  • The Baptism of our Lord (First Sunday after Epiphany)
  • Transfiguration (Last Sunday after Epiphany and/or August 6)
  • Easter (all days except Pentecost)
  • Holy Trinity
  • Christ the King

White is also used as the color for anyone commemorated on the calendar who was not martyred and is the color appointed for funerals regardless of whatever the color of the day might otherwise be. Purple is commonly used for the season of Lent. It is also optional for use during Advent, thoughblue is the preferred color for this season because of its hopeful connotations rather than the penitential character implied by purple and its association with Lent.[18] Red is used for the commemorations of martyrs and is used on the Day of Pentecost. Scarlet is also used for Holy Week, though purple is also allowed. Black (with purple as an alternative) may be used on Ash Wednesday. The only day which does not have a color isGood Friday, when all the paraments are traditionally removed from the church. The color for Holy Saturday is white or gold since it is the day when the Great Vigil of Easter is celebrated, though until the vigil, the church would remain void of paraments.

Historical development Edit

Liturgical calendars began to be developed in Christianity around the fourth century, with the church calendar as it is known today coming into full development in the period of the medieval sacramentaries.[19] While Sunday had long been established in the weekly calendar, festivals such as Easter and Christmas were also a fixed part of the calendar by this time. The ninth century also saw the inclusion of numerous saints in the calendar (a practice already begun by the second century), even to the point that normal Sunday propers were taking place over those normally appointed for Sunday.[20] The Lutheran calendar owes much to the proliferation of commemorations of the medieval calendars of Western Christianity.